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Eritrea: Press Freedom Updates
Nov 15, 2009 (091115)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Eritrea ranks at the very bottom of Reporters without Borders index
of press freedom for 2009, released in October (see http://www.rsf.org/en-classement1003-2009.html), accompanied in the bottom five by North Korea, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Burma.
In this report, Reporters without Borders lists 28 journalists as imprisoned in the
country, more than any other country.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two recent short reports from
Reporters without Borders on the situation of journalists in
Eritrea, and an account on http://asmarino.com by exiled journalist
Tedros Abraham on his experiences as a journalist in Asmara and
and his journey through Sudan to eventual refugee status in Norway.
This web-only Bulletin is one of a series of three released today.
"Eritrea: Perilous Journeys," sent out by e-mail as well as posted
on the web, is available at
"Eritrea: No Welcome in Italy" is available at
For a selection of recent books on Eritrea, see
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Eritrea, visit
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Journalist's choice as Sakharov Prize finalist hailed as victory
for Eritrean prisoners of conscience
Reporters Sans Frontières / Reporters Without Borders
9 October 2009
[Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and
press freedom throughout the world. For more information from RSF
on Eritrea, including a regularly updated list of imprisoned
journalists, see http://www.rsf.org]:
Reporters Without Borders hails the European Parliament's decision
to include Dawit Isaac, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean
dual citizenship who has been detained in Eritrea since September
2001, in the three finalists for the 2009 Sakharov Prize for
Freedom of Thought. The leaders of the parliament's political
groups will choose the winner on 22 October.
"The Eritrean government has tried for years to ensure that
nothing is said about the fate of its political prisoners,"
Reporters Without Borders said. "We thank the European United
Left-Nordic Green Left and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for
Europe parliamentary groups for supporting this candidacy."
The press freedom organisation added: "This already represents a
reward for Dawit Isaac and for the 30 or so other journalists who
are rotting in Eritrean jails, without trial, because President
Issaias Afeworki regards them as traitors."
The names of the three finalists, chosen from a list of 10
nominated by MEPs, were announced on 6 October by the parliament's
foreign affairs and development commissions. The other two
finalists are the Gaza-based Palestinian physician Izzeldin
Abuelaish and the Russian human rights organisation Memorial. [The
final prize was awarded to Memorial.]
"This candidacy is sending a signal to my country's regime," an
Eritrean political refugee in Belgium told Reporters Without
Borders. "Dawit Isaac has not sunk into the oblivion where the
authorities want him to be." Isaac's brother, Esayas Isaac, told
Reporters Without Borders he was very proud. "Eritrea needs
talented and committed people like Dawit. We will not give up."
The Sweden-based "Free Dawit Isaac" association said it believed
the nomination meant that Isaac's work was recognised in Europe
and the rest of the world. Isaac, who founded and edited the
weekly Setit, "was not just a journalist but also an acclaimed
poet and playwright," the association's president, Leif Obrink,
said. "Extracts from his plays were shown at the Goteborg book
fair at the end of September. We are very grateful to the European
Parliament for its efforts on behalf of Dawit."
After receiving treatment this year in an air force hospital in
Asmara, Isaac was recently transferred to a provincial prison
somewhere on the road from the capital to the port city of Masawa.
Some sources say it is Embatkala prison, in Ghinda, 35 km
northeast of Asmara, while other think he is being held in
Dongolo, which is nearer to Masawa.
A European Parliament resolution on 7 January 2009 expressed deep
concern about Isaac's continuing imprisonment and demanded his
immediate release. But the European Union's attempts to obtain
news about him have so far been ignored by the Eritrean
World's biggest prison for journalists eight years after
September 2001 round-ups
Reporters Sans Frontières
17 September 2009
Eritrea now has at least 30 journalists and two media workers
behind bars, which means that, exactly eight years after the
round-ups of 18 September 2001 that put an end to free
expression, it has achieved parity with China and Iran in terms
of the number of journalists detained.
"Eritrea's prisoners of conscience are not just the victims of
their jailers' cruelty," Reporters Without Borders said. "They
are also, and even more so, the victims of indifference, tacit
consent or overly timid efforts on the part of the country's
international 'partners'. The Eritrean government has become a
disgrace for Africa."
The press freedom organisation added: "Eight years after
President Issaias Afeworki took his country on a tragic new
course, it is time for him to change direction again and agree to
release the imprisoned journalists or try them according to
international norms. We count on the Swedish government, the
current holder of the European Union presidency, to obtain
concessions from Issaias, especially as one of the jailed
journalists holds dual Swedish and Eritrean citizenship."
The three most important waves of arrests of the past eight years
were in September 2001, November 2006 and February 2009. Thirty
journalists and two media workers are currently detained, without
Many are being held in metal containers or underground cells in
Adi Abeito military prison (northwest of Asmara, on the road to
Keren), in Eiraeiro prison (near the locality of Gahtelay, north
of the road from Asmara to the port city of Massawa), in the
Dahlak archipelago or one of the many other detention centres
scattered around the country.
Reporters Without Borders has confirmed that four journalists
arrested in September 2001 did not survive the appalling prison
The journalist with Swedish and Eritrean dual nationality is
Dawit Isaac, the founder of the now banned weekly Setit, who was
arrested on 23 September 2001. He was taken to the airforce
hospital in Asmara for treatment earlier this year but he is now
in Embatkala prison in Ghinda, 35 km northeast of the capital on
the Massawa road.
The Eritrean authorities are keeping the state of his health a
secret despite the international campaigns for his release. In
response to a question about Dawit during an interview for
Swedish journalist Donald Bostr”m at the end of May, President
Issaias said that he did not care where Dawit was held, that he
would never be tried and that the government would never
negotiate his release with Sweden.
In a resolution on 7 January 2009, the European Parliament
expressed deep concern about Dawit's continuing imprisonment and
demanded his immediate release. But all the European Union
attempts to obtain news about him have been ignored by the
Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned that, during the
past three weeks, dozens of civil servants working for the
ministries of information, defence, foreign affairs and national
security have been forced by the authorities to surrender their
A Refugee At last
Tedros Abraham (Babu), Norway
11 September 2009
[Excerpts only. For full article see:
I was born and grew up in Asmara, a city whose love affair never
ends; it resonates in my heart in every second of my journey to
seek refuge elsewhere. I have attended my primary, high school and
University classes there. It is a place where I have seen my dream
come true; unfortunately, it is also a place where I have seen my
dream and the dream of its entire population shuttering.
I began contributing articles to the print media as young as 16
years of age. In 1998 when I was a high school student of Red Sea
school (Ke'has), along with my colleagues, I co-founded a monthly
newspaper called Hareg, with an aim to create a forum where
students could discuss on a range of issues that concerns them. I
worked as editor-in-chief of this newspaper until it was banned by
the government in September 2001.
Meanwhile, as of May 2000, I began working as a reporter and
columnist for the largest and the first private newspaper in the
country, Setit. I contributed more than 60 articles, mostly news
analysis regarding international political issues.
While I was working for Setit, along with my colleagues, I was
striving hard to be the true voice of the people. However we were
under constant threat and at times harassment from the government
authorities. In August 2001, I was imprisoned by the government
authorities for writing an investigative report regarding an
unfair land allotment in the Anseba region. I was released after
receiving a strict warning not to raise the issue in the media
After completing my high school study, I joined the University of
Asmara in September 2002, where I graduated in journalism and mass
communications with B.A degree in September 2007. Though I was in
the University for four years, I never stopped exercising my
journalistic carrier. In July 2003, I got the opportunity to work
as a freelancer with the local language government newspaper Hadas
Ertra. I became the first to start the international news analysis
column that used to appear on bi-weekly basis. I was covering
mostly regional issues and in my articles I endeavoured to remain
as objective as I could. However, this was not without challenge,
especially as of the beginning of 2005 when the government
officially shifted its policies to anti-west and launched
propaganda warfare, where I was soon to be found unfit for such a
service; consequently, I got fired. Initially I was told that I
was fired because of internal structural adjustment. But the truth
was that I resisted their interference in my articles ...
When I lost my job in Hadas Ertra I had ample time to concentrate
on the book that I was translating regarding modern world history
and the rise of capitalism. I completed the book in June 2005 and
submitted it to the Ministry of Information for censorship. Soon
after, I found myself in a quagmire and underwent 35 days of
imprisonment as the result. They wanted an explanation as what
were my motives to translate the book. They even accused me that
I was funded by the CIA. After taking the soft and hard copy of
the book, they gave me a strong warning to never disclose any
information about this particular incident, if not I would face
grave consequences. Before my imprisonment I was also contributing
articles to Eritrea profile and radio Dmsi Hafash; henceforth, I
decided to quit.
After completing my University study in June 2006, I was assigned
to do my compulsory University service with the PFDJ [People's
Front for Democracy and Justice] website shaebia.org; in one way
I was relieved to escape from working for the Ministry of
Information, as my animosity with acting Minister Ali Abdu was at
its peak then. I also felt saddened when I knew that I had to work
for an organization, which is responsible for the Eritrean
people's misery. It's ridiculous why they have chosen me to work
for such an organization in the first place, which is
traditionally run by the so-called amenable citizens. After all
they knew my background, hence, it was a moment of a big personal
and professional test for me, but I never made any compromise. ...
Even though I was fully aware of the grave consequence, I decided
to remain as a professional journalist. In the one year and three
months of my stay with the website. I have never been given a
single chance from my boss to get out of Asmara, as he was so
suspicious of me that I could leave the country in that pretext.
However, I have never written a single article that lauds the
government or the party itself; accidentally, I ended up being a
sports reporter. In the meantime, I have never stopped from
looking a way out of the hellish life with full of agony, to save
myself before it was too late.
I made four failed attempts to cross the border, three times to
Ethiopia and once to the Sudan. But I never gave up and succeeded
with the fifth one. After six days of exhausting walk, I managed
to get in to the Sudan on the 17th of November 2007 via Sawa
military training camp, along two other colleagues. It was very
risky and at times life threatening journey. Had it not been for
one Sudanese nomad to rescue our life, we could all have vanished
without trace in the deserts of eastern Sudan. The nomad named Mr.
Hamid told us that just two week before our arrival, they had
buried the body of two young Warsay Ykealo school students, who
were presumably died as a result of water thirsty. Our fate could
have not been different either, but we were so lucky to escape
from that imminent danger.
Once we reached Sudan no one of us ever expected to face with such
kind of agonising danger, but the nomad, who was in his mid
eighties became our hero. He had to walk along with his two camels
with us, in an effort to save our life. He was on foot while three
of us turn by turn had to ride on the back of the camel. And it
took us three days to reach a village called Girgir, 20km north
from the city of Kessela. With all the difficulties of Arabic
language I had at that time, but one of Mr. Hamids breathtaking
expression was something that I hardly forget '' Esaias ke'ab''
meaning Esaias is a trouble maker. He also asked ''what have the
Eritrean people done to deserve all these misery.'' Frankly I
never expected those sympathetic words to come out from such an
old nomad who happens to witness the tragedy and suffering of
Eritreans first hand on a daily bases.
In the town of Girgir, we were very well received by the local
people, who handed us later to a plain clothed Sudanese security
personal. After making the mandatory search on our body they found
nothing, except four hundred US dollars. But, luckily they just
took one hundred and returned us back the remaining. They gave us
peanuts (they call it fuul) a stable food in the Sudan, and we ate
like crazy as our belly was empty enough to receive any thing.
During our journey we were only eating some biscuits with muddy
water. Later in the evening, they loaded us on a lorry's back,
which was full of charcoal. Being on the top of the charcoal,
every one of us had to make sure not to fall down before we
reached to our dream town Kessela.
When we reached in the check point to enter Kessela, we met with
two newly arrived asylum seekers and we were taken together to the
security prison in the heart of the city. Kessela is a city where
most of the Eritrean asylum seekers first end up before they get
transferred to the nearby refugee camp. ...
In the detention centre, we were interrogated by the security
officers, some of whom were Eritreans working with the government
of Sudan, as they spoke fluent Tigrigna. They promised to transfer
us to the Wedisherifay refugee camp on the next day for further
assessment on our asylum case via the UNHCR. They asked us to give
them money to bring us our dinner and the next morning they needed
additional money for the diesel of the car that is going to take
us to the refugee camp, and we gave them more money than they
However, they directly took us to the Immigration Department
instead of the refugee camp. To our surprise, they began to guard
us seriously just like criminals. ... They later told us that they
were officials working with the UNHCR and they were going to help
us to get asylum in the Sudan. To our relief, finally we reached
Wedisherifay refugee camp, after half an hour of drive from
Kessela towards the border with Eritrea. The location of the camp
is awkward for many of the asylum seekers, as you can see Eritrean
hills just across a couple of miles away. I remember most of the
refugees were having a sleepless night, fearing from the possible
abduction by Eritrean security agents, who are believed to
frequently visit the camp.
Once we reached Wedisherifay, many of the refugees came to hug and
shake us, who seem surprised with our coming. Everyone was
congratulating us, as if we were Olympic gold medal winners. But,
as I learnt later they had a good reason to do so, as we were the
first group to arrive in the refugee camp for almost a month. At
that time the government of Sudan was simply returning back
hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers to the ruthless dictatorial
regime in Asmara. ...
Wedisherifay refugee camp was mainly established to house, those
who fled from the fighting during Eritrea's war for independence
(1961-1991). Most of the refugees refused UNHCR voluntary
repatriation program during the late nineties to Eritrea, hence as
durable solution to their problem the UNHCR was trying to resettle
some of them in the western countries, but as most of the refugees
already lived in protracted camp for three or four decades, they
complain with the slow pace of progress in their process of
As of 2004 the UNHCR opened a new reception centre in the camp in
order to assess the increasing number of new asylum seekers from
We were given priority in the assessment of our case, as the
immigration officials have given only three days to the UNHCR for
our refugee status to be determined, if we were to fail to be
genuine asylum seekers, we would have certainly been deported back
then. ... They transferred us to our final destination camp kilo
26, which is located almost 100km inside Sudan. Even though
security wise this camp is much safer than Wedisherifay, but none
of the refugees stay for more than a couple of days here, they
directly opt to go to Khartoum through the help of smugglers, who
find this job a very lucrative business.
I along with my three colleagues met with a smuggler, who later
assisted us to get into Khartoum illegally. Forty two people were
placed in one lorry in a very overcrowded manner; we were so
tightly squeezed into the lorry that, at times, we find ourselves
on top of one another. We were totally covered with plastic in
order to pretend the lorry was loaded with some materials....
Later I began to explore the taste of being in Khartoum, I felt as
free as the bird for the first time in more than seven years. I
loved to go from one street to another without any fear of a
soldier asking me for a permit paper. I loved being myself, which
I have never been in Eritrea. Above all I loved seeing most
Sudanese reading morning newspaper everywhere, and I learnt that
there are more than forty private newspapers in the country. For
someone like me, who came from a country mini-north Korea in East
Africa, I felt honoured to be among them to share their freedom.
For this reason, I enthusiastically applied to work in Khartoum
Monitor, a prominent English language newspaper. I worked as a
freelancer for several months with a pen name, for I had to keep
my profile very law. And later I ventured to publish my own
newspaper in my local language called Shewit, which is the first
of its kind to be published in the Sudan. Later, as it gained
popularity among the urban refugees, I began to face a number of
threats from Eritrean government agents. Ultimately I decided to
terminate it, as I didn't had any security guarantee from the
government of Sudan. And in April 2009, I received the prestigious
Hellman/Hammett award for human rights defenders in recognition of
my contributions for the freedom of speech and the suffering I
Khartoum is booming with massive foreign investment, the economic
activity is incredible for someone who came from a capital city
run by a failed government. And I marvelled at its size of nine
million people, which is twice the number of the whole population
of my country with 4 million.
Sudan is a transit place for most of Eritrean refugees, for
further illegal migration to Libya or Egypt. I was tempted to go
to Libya or Egypt but refrained later fearing potential
deportation, as both countries used to extradite Eritrean asylum
seekers to the dictatorial regime in Asmara. Hence, I decided to
ask protection in the Sudan so as the UNHCR to assist me in
resettling to any third country as the only viable option.
However, I found this option very difficult and unsustainable as
I had to undergo a number of complicated procedures just to secure
a convention refugee status. The process was at times frustrating,
as it takes extremely long time for the UN to intervene for
possible solutions. Finally I have learnt how to be patient even
though it was psychologically very hurting, as I was constantly
living in fear of possible abduction.
Now I am in Norway, enjoying freedom that I badly missed at home
over the past nine years, and it is a place, where I hardly
imagined finding myself as a refugee, but I am here starting a new
life with dignity that I barely get in my country. Even though I
am far away from home, the imprisonment of my colleagues, the
continuous cycle of suffering of our people inside and in the
refugee camps is constantly resonating in my mind, to break my
absolute ecstasy, but, my pen is still my weapon.
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